On the Road

Sharpen your interviewing skills

By Doug Haddix, IRE training director

Studies have shown that the actual words account for only about 7 percent of communication between two people, according to Amy Herdy of the University of Colorado. Body language makes up 55 percent of communication, with tone accounting for the other 38 percent, she told journalists during a recent IRE Better Watchdog Workshop in Denver. For instance, she said, reporters and producers should not approach a reluctant source with a notebook or microphone in hand. Be aware that the tools of the trade can intimidate sources. Persuade them to be interviewed first, and only later pull out the notebook or digital recorder. “Remember that the interview is not about you,” Herdy said. “It’s all about the source.” Besides considering the best initial approach and the effect of nonverbal signals, journalists can sharpen their skills by talking to police and attorneys about their interviewing techniques, according to co-panelist Deborah Sherman of 9News-KUSA in Denver. Among the other tips from Herdy and Sherman:

  • Get beside a source whenever possible, rather than sitting across a desk from them.
  • Slowly mimic or mirror the source’s body language in a subtle way to build a subconscious bond. If the source puts his left arm on the table, after a few minutes, do the same.
  • Really listen during the interview, rather than rehearsing your next question. Be adept at shifting your line of questioning if a source surprises you with an answer.
  • If you have a limited chance to question a key source, ask the tough question first. Or, if the source knows what you’re after, sometimes it’s best to say: “We both know why I’m here, so let’s talk about X.”
  • Too much extraneous information or detail from a source could be a sign of lying – a way to try to distract you.

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